After almost two decades, NASA has successfully completed building world’s largest space telescope, that will be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble probe and may find the first galaxies that formed in the early universe.
The agency announced on Wednesday that the James Webb Space Telescope is considered to be the successor to NASA’s 26-year-old Hubble Space Telescope.
“Today, we’re celebrating the fact that our telescope is finished and we’re about to prove that it works,” Nobel laureate and Webb’s senior project scientist John Mather said during a news conference posted on YouTube, adding that the new telescope will open up “a whole new territory of astronomy”.
“We will see things we have not seen before because this telescope is much more powerful than even the great Hubble telescope,” Mather said, adding “To give you some perspective about what we can do with it. If you were a bumblebee at a distance of the moon, we will be able to see you, both by your reflective sunlight and by thermal radiation and heat you emitted.”
NASA has said that an Ariane 5 rocket will launch it from French Guiana in October 2018.
The telescope’s infrared cameras are so sensitive that it needs to be shielded from the rays of the Sun. A 5-layer sun-shield of the sizer of a tennis court will prevent the background heat from the Sun from interfering with the telescope’s infrared sensors. The five sun-shield membrane layers are each as thin as a human hair. Each successive layer of the sun-shield is made of kapton.
Webb has been designed and constructed to withstand its launch environment, but must be tested to verify that it will indeed survive and not change in any unexpected way.
According to NASA, on Wednesday, its engineers and technicians successfully completed the first important optical measurement of Webb’s fully assembled primary mirror, known as a Center of Curvature test, to measure the mirror’s shape.
Making the same optical measurement both before and after simulated launch environment testing and comparing the results is fundamental to Webb’s development, assuring that it will work in space.
NASA said that the Webb telescope will be used to observe distant objects in th universe, provide images of the first galaxies formed and see unexplored planets around distant stars.
The $8.7 billion project is a joint effort of NASA, European Space Agency and Canadian Space Agency.